Tamera’s eyes squinted as she tried to understand why the man – the stranger sitting alone at a table across the way – was staring at her. In the short while she’d held his vision, he barely blinked and had somewhat of a presumptuous smirk on his face.
Why is he staring at me? Do I know him from somewhere? Hmm…
Annoyed, she tapped her rose-pink nails on the wooden tabletop thinking about him for a moment, running the image of his face through her memory bank to determine if she knew him or had seen him somewhere before. She didn’t know him, she determined, nor had she had any recollection of ever laying eyes on him. She was certain of it. She couldn’t forget a face so mind-blowingly handsome if she wanted to. In fact, now that she had his handsomeness recorded and committed to memory, she would easily remember his face again just as easily as she could recall her cell phone number. Stop. Looking. At. Me. Dang it!
She wasn’t here to make a connection. Wasn’t prepared to shoo away strays. She was here for work. No distractions. Even if it was from a man so fine, he made her blush at first glance.
She picked up a black ballpoint pen from the table, making another attempt at work but couldn’t stop herself from looking up again and locking eyes with the mystery man across the restaurant. He smiled small. Peculiarly so. Didn’t show any teeth, indicative of a sneaky person – a person with something to hide. Or maybe he was trying to disguise jacked-up teeth.
See, now you’re thinking about the man’s teeth when you’re supposed to be working.
She wondered if it would be rude to move to another table, one in which he had no view of her and she’d have no view of him. She was tempted but stayed put. Why should she inconvenience herself because of someone else’s rudeness?
Just focus on work, Tamera. He’s cute, but those are the ones that are usually no good. Plus, he probably has bad teeth.
She grinned to herself. There. Now that that was settled, she clicked the mechanical pen and scribbled a note:
Review notes for Central Grub House
-East side restaurant near Uptown Charlotte
-a lot of construction in the area
-limited parking for the restaurant
She made it a point to take short notes while she dined, so later when she wrote the full review on the place, the thoughts she wanted to express would readily come to mind. This evening, she dined alone at Central Grub House, a family-style, kid-friendly restaurant located on Central Avenue, two miles east of Uptown situated near a bunch of newly constructed apartment towers and her guilty pleasure, Dairy Queen. She’d wanted to review the grub house when she was there two months ago performing food safety inspections. Then, the food smelled good. The restaurant was squeaky clean, like almost eat-off-the-floor clean. Even the bathrooms were neat – not like most she’d seen with wet toilet paper strewn about the floor, overran waste baskets and a pool of liquid soap and water on the countertops.
And the kitchen at Central Grub House – it was the model all restaurant kitchens should follow. The food was stored in its proper place and set to correct temperatures. There was absolutely no risk of cross contamination. No sink full of dirty dishes. No insects. No rodents. Everything was how it should be.
Too bad the food sucked.
Well, maybe not all the food, but the braised chicken on the fancy, square-shaped ceramic plate in front of her was awful – so bad, she couldn’t finish chewing the first bite. Tamera took a white napkin, discreetly spitting out the chicken she’d attempted to eat, quickly following up with a drink of water. Still, the taste remained on her tongue. She tried to swish water around in her mouth to get rid of the aftertaste, but it didn’t work. The awfulness of the badly cooked chicken was too potent to wash away, or maybe she needed something stronger to wash out her mouth like Listerine or…Vodka. Amused, she shook her head. Had she ever eaten anything so bland and utterly unpalatable?
She looked around, curious to see if anyone was watching her, and sure enough, Mr. Admirer was gazing her way again. Maybe he thought he knew her. Had her mixed up with someone else. Had so many women, he couldn’t remember this one from that one. Most likely. And he had on a suit, looked professional and groomed. Perhaps he was meeting someone, waiting for her but passing the time people-watching. Women-watching. Tamera Alexander-watching.
After trying the sorry salad and not-so-good chicken, everything inside of her told her not to try the mashed potatoes – it wouldn’t be any better. But the review had to include the full meal, not bits and pieces of it. Hoping for the best – and that the taste of the mashed potatoes would overpower the lingering nastiness the chicken left on her tongue – she went for it, taking a whole heaping spoonful of the stuff against her will.
She gagged. Forced it down. Chugged more water.
If a restaurant was going to cut corners by cooking boxed mashed potatoes instead of making it from scratch, the least they could do was add butter, milk, salt and pepper to it – attempt to give it some sort of flavor. Dang!
Gulping down more water, she swished it around in her mouth again, set the cup on the table and jotted down a note:
Chicken horrible. Tastes like seasoned chalk. Mashed potatoes not homemade, pre-packaged, and unseasoned. Salad looks
tossed thrown together. Lettuce too finely shredded. Only had one slice of cucumber and one grape tomato. No cheese. No croutons. No eggs. The complimentary bread was good but wasn’t served warm. Came with butter packets that were frozen solid. Bread wasn’t warm enough to melt the butter. Probably won’t ever eat here again. I will never eat here again.
What a shame. A huge disappointment. Trying a new restaurant with high hopes that quickly turned into an epic letdown was like seeing a fine, unattached man from afar who looked decent and presentable; yet you already knew he was no good just by his devilish looks and sure-of-himself grins he flashed at you. She looked up at Mr. Admirer and grinned to herself.
Yep. He was just like the food in this joint. No good.
* * *
*Amazon Top 100 Bestseller in the Romance/Clean & Wholesome Category*
*Amazon Top 100 Bestseller in Romance/Inspirational Category*
*Amazon Top 100 Bestseller in Literature & Fiction/African-American Romance*
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*Different Tastes is a spin-off of The Alexander Series and is a standalone novel.